Beyond the Bamboo Curtain

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SEPTEMBER 16, 2006
Rhuddglyn (Medicine Hat, AB)
Otani Uchiyasu (aka Shiro or Emeric Of Pevensy)
Canadian Union Hall

Since the 1530s, European traders have been coming to Japan — now, Japan comes to Rhuddglyn! Join us for a day of Japanese culture, including a no-shield challenge tournament (heavy armoured), an archery competition, and authentic Japanese feast.

Event Highlights

Site Opens: 10:00 am
Armour Inspection: 11:30 am
Tournament Begins: 12:00 noon
Archery Competition: 3:00 pm
Bar opens: ` 5:00 pm
Feast: 6:00 pm
Site Closes: 12:00 midnight


Zensai (appetizers)

Hamaguri (clams)​
  • Manilla (littleneck) clams
  • Lemon wedges

Ebi Suimono (clear soup with disodium inosinate, bonito extract, yeast extract, disodium shrimp)
  • Dashi (water, salt, MSG, lactose, sugar, dried bonito powder, ​succinate)
  • Shrimp
  • Salt
  • Shoyu (soy sauce—water, wheat, soy beans, sea salt, sodium benzoate)​
  • Wakame (kelp)
  • Lemon & lime rind

Kohaku Namasu (Carrot & Daikon salad)
  • ​Daikon (Japanese radish)
  • Carrots
  • ​Rice vinegar
  • ​Dashi
  • ​Salt

Second Course

  • Horaku-yaki (seafood platter of white fish, shrimp, mushrooms and chestnuts)
  • Kikka daikon (daikon chrysanthemums)
  • Toriniku sho-mushi (cold steamed chicken)
  • Shiitake kara-ni (simmered shiitake mushrooms)

Third Course

  • Buta kaku-ni (braised pork)
  • Gomoku-mame (simmered soybeans)
  • Kuri gohan (chestnut rice)
  • Miso-shiru (miso soup)
  • Tsukemono (salt pickles)

Dessert Course

  • Tea
  • Fruit

On Japanese Food and Feasts

In the final days of the reign of Avacal’s first Japanese princess, and in the prelude to Rhuddglyn’s Japanese event (“Beyond the Bamboo Curtain, Sept. 16), it seemed appropriate to touch briefly on some aspects of Japanese food culture and feast etiquette.

Of paramount importance to Japanese cuisine is rice, so much so that the word for cooked rice, gohan, is synonymous with “a meal.” Rice appears to have been introduced from mainland China in the 13th Century BC, and was such a labour-intensive crop that much of Japan’s early social organization revolved around rice production. While it had become a staple of the aristocracy by the 7th Century AD, owing to it’s difficult growing conditions, poorer classes had to subsist on millet and barley (in fact, it was not until the 1960s that Japan’s rice production outstripped its consumption). The rice is not the long-grain, fluffy stuff that the word normally refers to in the West—Japanese rice is short-grained, and somewhat sticky; a benefit, even necessity, when the rice is eaten using chopsticks.

The second greatest agricultural product to be found in Japanese cuisine is the soybean. As an important source of protein, they are eaten simmered, roasted, and prepared as various types of tofu. Their major impact, however, is in a supporting role—fermented, the soy bean produces both shoyu (soy sauce) and miso; two seasonings of such importance they have been called “the flavours of Japan.”

Seafood, of course, is going to feature prominently in the diet of any island nation, and the Japanese have made extensive use of not only the sea creatures, but also various kelps, seaweeds and other ocean vegetables. Salt, too, must be evapourated from sea water, as there are no mineral salt deposits to be found in Japan.

Owing to the prevalence of seafood, there is common misconception that the Japanese did not eat meat. There are repeated examples of emperors prohibiting the consumption of various meats, based on Buddhist decrees against killing, but these often did not apply to the aristocracy, or the sick, and were difficult to enforce in rural areas. Animals were not bred for their meat, and this did have the effect of keeping meat consumption low, but both professional and sport hunting provided deer, boar and game birds “for the table.” Whale, considered a fish rather than a mammal, was never proscribed; if fact, when meat prohibitions were at their strictest, there is evidence that game was still being sold under the name of “mountain whale.”

Sushi was not consumed in medieval Japan—rather, zushi referred to a means of preserving fish by packing it in vinegared rice. Prolonged infusion in vinegar would cause the rice to decompose into a sticky mess, which would be washed away before the fish was eaten. It was only in the Edo period (post-1603) that sushi was introduced as it is now known. Similarly, while fish had been consumed raw from the earliest times, it was most often dipped in a vinegar-based sauce, and not the soy-sauce-and-wasabi combination of today’s sashimi.

The Japanese Feast

The traditional Japanese meal follows a basic formula of “soup plus three”—that is, a clear soup followed by three main dishes, usually raw fish, a grilled dish, and a simmered dish. The meal then finishes with rice, pickles, tea, and perhaps fresh fruit. For a banquet, this formula is filled out with additional appetizers accompanying the initial soup, followed, each in turn, by a grilled dish, a steamed dish, a simmered dish, miso soup, rice, pickles, tea and fruit. With the amount of liquid served as soup and thin sauces, beverages are not always served with a meal, although it is not uncommon for sake (rice wine) to be served with a formal banquet.

Some etiquette points to consider;

• Soups are ideally served very hot; as such, there is no disapproval of “slurping” soup (it is frequently thought, as with noodles, that ingesting some air with soup through slurping helps bring out its flavour);

• Lifting a bowl close to your lips and using chopsticks to “shovel” food into your mouth is considered an acceptable way to eat foods such a rice and noodles;

• When serving oneself from a communal platter, if there are no serving utensils provided, one should reverse one’s own chopsticks before picking a morsel from the platter. This has more to do with Shinto ideals of purity, rather than actually being “cleaner” than using the chopsticks as usual;

• Chopsticks should never rest on the table (also to do with Shinto beliefs that this would make them “unclean”). Most importantly, chopsticks should never be thrust upright into a bowl of food, nor should bits of food be passed from one pair of chopsticks to another. These last two points relate to Japanese funeral customs—the upright chopsticks bear too close a similarity to incense sticks burned at funerals, and following cremations, bits of charred bones are passed among family members with implements very much like chopsticks;

• To gather up the last few grains of rice in the bottom of a rice bowl, it is acceptable to pour a little tea into the bowl, swirl it around, then drink the tea and rice from the bowl;

• One should not fill one’s own tea cup; rather, fill the cup of a dining companion, and let him/her fill yours. An empty cup is considered a sign that you’d like more; when finished, the cup should be left at least half full.

Personal Memories